Traveling Internationally for the First Time? Here’s What You Should Know
Traveling Abroad For the First Time
Flying internationally for the first time is exciting, whether you’re traveling for business or heading out on your dream vacation. Some people are nervous about the idea of international travel, as they’ve never had to apply for passports, pass through customs, or arrange for travel visas before. Follow our international travel tips to learn how to prepare for a trip abroad, and you’ll find such tasks are quite straightforward.
Apply for Your Passport Early
Apply for your passport well ahead of your travel dates: it can take eight to eleven weeks to process your application, plus mailing times. If you need a passport in a hurry, you can pay an extra $60.00 for an expedited application, but this still takes five to seven weeks.
If you have to travel internationally within three business days (72 hours), you can apply for an expedited passport at a US Department of State passport office. This option is normally only open to people traveling due to life-or-death emergencies. Some offices provide expediting services for other urgent travel reasons on an extremely limited basis.
All the information you need to apply for a US passport is available on the US Department of State website. As of December 2021, a first-time adult passport (age sixteen and over) fee is $165.00. If you're renewing a passport, the cost is $130.00. For children under the age of sixteen, a passport costs $135.00.
What Should You Do When You Receive Your Passport?
Some of the most important tips for traveling abroad for the first time center around protecting your passport. Passports may get lost or stolen during international travel, which can seriously impact your trip. Once you receive your passport, make two paper copies of the document. Give one to a trusted friend or family member for emergencies, and keep the other in your wallet.
Digital copies of your passport are also helpful. Take a photo of the document with your phone and upload the images to a secure cloud server such as Google Docs. Take another photo of your visa stamp and upload this to the cloud as well. The Department of State recommends keeping an extra passport photo with your passport copy to speed up the replacement process should the passport go missing.
Today’s passports contain sensitive RFID information. While RFID passports speed up how quickly travelers can check in and pass through security, transmitted information can be intercepted by rogue RFID scanners and used for identity theft. Guard against this possibility by protecting your passport with an RFID-blocking passport holder, such as the Travelpro® Essentials™ Leather Passport Cover, which protects your personal information with built-in Travelpro® ID TheftBlock technology.
Research Country's Language & Traditions Before Booking
Research plays a big role when learning how to prepare for a trip abroad. You’ll have to adjust to different currencies, laws, cultural customs, and time zones at your destination, so do some preparation before you travel. Read up on your destination online — no matter where you’re heading, you’ll find relevant travel blogs and articles online. Check out travel message boards or social media pages dedicated to your destination, and ask plenty of questions.
Cultural considerations are extremely important, and knowing what a culture considers polite and respectful behavior helps prevent embarrassing situations. For instance, in India, public displays of affection such as kissing and hugging are considered inappropriate and should be avoided to prevent offending people.
Never assume what’s acceptable in your culture is accepted in someone else’s. A gesture as innocuous as a thumbs-up gesture means something insulting in many Middle Eastern countries. Information on such cultural no-nos is, fortunately, readily available online.
If you’re traveling to a non-English speaking country, learn some simple phrases in the local language. “Hello,” “goodbye,” “please,” and “thank you” are good places to start. Use the Google Translate app for more complicated conversations and download local languages onto your phone.
Travel, whether domestic or international, is not without risk. Check online to see if there are any locations travelers would be wise to avoid or common scams local crooks like to play on unsuspecting foreigners. For an in-depth overview of the safety of your destination and what to know before flying internationally, check the Department of State’s travel guides.
A visa is a permit that allows you to be in the country for the duration of your stay. Not all countries require US travelers to obtain visas, including many European countries. For countries that do require visas, you must obtain the document from the country’s consulate in advance or you will not be allowed to board your flight.
COVID Entry Requirements
The COVID pandemic has, unfortunately, made travel slightly more complicated. Be sure to check your destination’s COVID-related entry requirements, including what proof the country requires for vaccinations, how far in advance of travel you can take PCR tests, and how the country deals with vaccination exemptions.
Check with the country’s consulate for advice on where to find entry locator forms, which may be either paper documents or electronic. Also, check to see if your destination is on the CDC’s list of high-risk countries, so you can take appropriate precautions as you travel.
Consider Travel Insurance
We can tell you how to use packing spaces and how to pack your carry-on, but none of this matters if your flight gets canceled, your luggage gets stolen, or you have a medical emergency while abroad. For these reasons and many more, securing travel insurance is one of the most important international travel tips we know.
Most people never have to make a claim on their travel insurance, which sometimes leads to the assumption that travel insurance is an unnecessary expense. This isn’t true: travel insurance is a sensible precaution all international travelers should consider.
Be sure you understand what events your travel insurance policy covers. While often associated with major problems such as medical emergencies, travel insurance can cover a wide array of expenses, including the impact delayed baggage or a broken camera could have on your journey.
Get Proper Currency in Advance
In some countries, however, ATMs are few and far between, and vendors may not process credit or debit cards. Even in nations where ATMs and credit card use are commonplace, it’s still a good idea to have some local currency on hand in case of emergencies.
You can exchange currencies at airports, but you’ll pay a steep price in transaction fees. It’s cheaper to exchange currency at your local bank or through the AAA.
As for how much local money you should have on hand, aim for about $200. This is enough to make a difference if you need it, but not so much that loss or theft would bring your trip to a sudden halt. Try to bring a debit and credit card: keep one in your wallet and the other safe in your hotel room, so you have a backup.
Call Your Credit Card Company
Calling your credit card company is one of the often-overlooked tips for how to prepare for a trip abroad, but it’s important. Your card company monitors cards for suspicious activity. If most of your purchases are made in Kansa City, and suddenly you’re making purchases in Dubai, the credit card company may freeze your account, which can take time to resolve. Avoid this problem by letting the card company know your travel plans.
While talking to your card company, ask about the company's international fees and whether the company works with particular banks at your destination. This may save you money on foreign transaction ATM fees. On a related note, make sure you have your card’s PIN memorized so you can withdraw money.
International SIM Cards
Speaking of international fees, check your phone plan’s international calling policy. Calls and texts from foreign locations can result in unexpectedly high phone bills. One of the best ways to avoid such fees is to purchase an international SIM card when you get to your destination and use it instead.
Our best advice for first-time international travelers is to pack as lightly as possible. If you can get away with only traveling with a carry-on, go for it! You can buy an additional bag at your destination if you want to transport large souvenirs home.
When packing, check to ensure that what you pack is permitted by TSA and your destination country’s laws. This is especially important when traveling with prescription medication, as some medication may be permitted in one country but illegal in others. Pack cold medicine and prescriptions in your carry-on.
If you're traveling with electronics (and who isn’t these days?), you may need an adapter or voltage converter to plug devices into your destination’s power outlets safely.
Understanding what to know before flying internationally will make your first trip abroad go smoother. You’ll have less stress and will be able to enjoy the trip knowing you’re well prepared for the unexpected. Above all, have fun! International travel is a great adventure, and the more you travel, the better prepared you’ll be for your next trip